Everything comes together in this perfect paradigm of a mid-budget/ mid-‘40s Hollywood thriller. Having dipped their toe in Universal style horror w/ UNDYING MONSTER/'42, 20th/Fox & director John Brahm found their own voice superimposing Oscar Wilde sensibility onto the atmospherics of the psychological thrillers Val Lewton was conjuring over @ R.K.O with Jacques Tourneau.* Working off the same Marie Belloc Lowndes novel Hitchcock used in 1927, this Jack-the-Ripper story leans more toward suspense than mystery, and without Hitchcock’s trick ending. But then, with hulking Laird Cregar as the lead, no use trying to hide your hand. He’s fabulous, a strange sort of beast, scary & sympathetic, touching on perverse sexual notes with a revulsion toward pretty Music Hall artistes and a fixation on the miniature portrait of his brilliant lost brother. Merle Oberon has one of her few good roles as the singer/dancer living in the same house while Sir Cedric Hardwicke, as her uncle, revels in playing a lower class type than he usually got a shot at. George Sanders can only do so much with his underwritten inspector, but Sara Allgood brings some effective odd touches as the observant landlady married to Hardwicke. Good as the supporting cast & script are, the real show is Brahm & lighting cameraman Lucien Ballard as they rise to meet the promise of Cregar’s unique villain. What an Oscar Wilde this 6' 3" 300 pounder might have made.
DOUBLE-BILL: Much of the creative team returned next year on the equally superb, and even more original, HANGOVER SQUARE/’45. OR: *Completing the circle, M-G-M's excellent Wilde adaptation of PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY/’45 with Sanders as a Wilde alter-ego.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Look (and listen) during the climax for some really fabulous backstage/strobe-like lighting effects, and then when the soundtrack all but drops out to highlight Cregar’s heavy-breathing terror. Stunning stuff.